More flights, less stops


Virgin Atlantic airline

from GEOFF HILL in London, United Kingdom
LONDON, (CAJ News) FLIGHTS between Europe and southern Africa look set to focus more on Johannesburg as airlines resume the long-haul trek to London and other centres.

The Head of Middle East, Africa and South Asia at, Liezl Gerike, says it’s not just a matter of economics.

“Airlines now operate from hubs rather than the old system where every major town had a service,” she said.

Virgin Atlantic is due to re-start passenger flights between Johannesburg and London Heathrow on 26 June. Kenya Airways will also resume flights to London from its base in Nairobi.

However, the UK still requires arrivals from so-called Red-List countries, including South Africa and Kenya, to spend ten days in hotel quarantine at a cost of £1,750. By contrast, France has opened its doors to anyone who can prove they have been vaccinated.

Multi-stops on way out

In the 1970s, Air Rhodesia flew to almost every town in the country including a multi-stop between the capital and Gweru, Masvingo and Buffalo Range near Chiredzi. A decade later, Air Zimbabwe had trimmed the network to Bulawayo, Kariba and Victoria Falls.

In recent years, a majority of Africa’s state-owned airlines have collapsed. Gone are Air Malawi, Royal Swazi and Zambia Airways.

Tanzania and Uganda have relaunched their carriers with a smaller network while continental giant South African Airways has stopped flying, but a privatisation deal could see it back in the skies before the end of 2021. The new brand will be 51 per cent privately owned and is likely to focus on regional travel.

John Murray was head of SAA in Australia, and led Alliance Air, a former joint-venture by South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania.

“State-owned assets have a problem, especially in Africa,” he said. “Too often, ministers and members of the ruling party put their family and friends into jobs instead of recruiting experts or selling the asset,” he said.

“When SAA was still flying globally, some of the world’s biggest airlines offered to buy it but insisted on slashing staff numbers. The government refused.”

He said small airlines like Air Zimbabwe or Mozambique’s LAM have “a very hard time” surviving against the giants like Emirates or Air France. “Big players have an economy of scale. They service hundreds of planes in one place and buy fuel in bulk.”

Liezl Gericke said it was hard to imagine a return to the days of direct flights to some African cities.

“At Virgin Atlantic, we put a huge value on passengers from neighbouring states like Botswana and Zimbabwe who join our flights in Johannesburg.”

She said London served as a hub for African passengers flying on with Virgin to the US, Canada and the Caribbean.

Regional carriers

There have been a number of start-ups in recent years to connect small towns across southern Africa.

In 1999, the privately owned Expedition Airways briefly resumed the routes between Harare, Gweru, and Masvingo, and flew non-stop from Chiredzi to Johannesburg. But with just a single plane and limited staff, it soon closed.

Another private carrier, Fastjet, currently services Zimbabwe out of Johannesburg along with flights to Nelspruit.

Airlink and the British Airways franchise, Comair, have the widest network of all South African airlines.

Shareholders in a new domestic brand called Lift are part of the group set to rescue SAA.

– CAJ News